Category Archives: Photography

Paradiso, and the Chamber of the Great Council

I didn’t take this photograph. I’m using it because it there was no way for me to come close to capturing the texture and detail of the massive painting behind the Doge’s throne in the Chamber of the Great Council. It’s titled Paradiso, and it was painted by Jacopo Tintoretto and the members of his workshop.

Click the image to enbiggen.

I first saw a picture of Paradiso in Venice: Art and Architecture, a two-volume, slip-cased entry in the superb series of art books that the Konemann publishing house released around the turn of the century. The picture took up two full pages of the oversized book.

I was thoroughly enraptured. Venice had always been near the top of my list of cities I dreamed of visiting, and that picture cinched the deal.

And now I was here.

Paradiso is the world’s longest painting on canvas, and the Chamber of the Great Council itself is one of the largest rooms in Europe. It was here that the Great Council of Venice, made up of all patrician males over 25, regularly met to determine the fate of Venice.

I spent more than an hour in this room, moving from place to place, trying to absorb as much of the emotional atmosphere of the room as I could.

Like Schloss Neuschwanstein, like Sainte-Chapelle, like Château de Chenonceau.

A peak experience.

In the Doges’ Palace

We’re near the end, now. And we’re right back where we started, at Piazza San Marco.

For centuries, Venice was a dominant—sometimes the dominant—force in the commercial and cultural life of Europe, playing a role similar to that of New York City in the 20th century. The Doges’ Palace was Venice’s ultimate power center.

The Palace is adjacent to Saint Mark’s Basilica, and its entrance is just around the corner.


The Courtyard

You approach the palace grounds through this dim passageway…

…which opens to the central courtyard, and a magnificent assemblage of architecture. It’s a much smaller space than Piazza San Marco, but every bit as awe-inspiring..

Emerging from that shadowy entrance into this exquisite space is similar to going from Kansas to Oz.


“Much have I travelled in the realms of gold…”

Beautiful as the exterior is, it doesn’t prepare you for the grand rooms of the Palace.

This is why I keep going back to Europe. It takes centuries of civilization for a society to create an environment like this.


In the Armory

Every palace needs an armory.


The Reason I Came to Venice

There’s one more room in the palace still to visit: The Chamber of the Great Council. It gets a separate posting.

Ristoteca Oniga, and the Best Meal I Had in Venice

Restaurants in Venice are likely to be more famous for their high prices than for their great cuisine. It should be a first-rate seafood city, but Barcelona and New Orleans have no need to fear Venetian competition. Of the dozen or so places I tried, all of them highly recommended by Yelp, TripAdvisor, or other independent sources, only one of the full-service restaurants made me crave a second visit.*

That was Ristoteca Oniga, near Ca’ Rezzonico, in the Dorsoduro sestiere.

Like many of the restaurants in Venice, the exterior looks shabby and uninviting—Island weather conditions can be rough on buildings. I never made it inside, though, because it was a perfect spring day, and Oniga, which fronts on a pleasant square called Campo San Barnaba, has lots of outdoor seating.

Campo San Barnaba

Campo San Barnaba

Breads

Breads

A nice selection of fresh bread is always a good sign. I’d never seen those round baked goods that look like big Cheerios before, but I ate every crunchy one of them, and could have eaten more.

Mussels and Clams

Mussels and Clams

These sautéed mussels and clams with a tomato and garlic sauce made up the single best dish I had in Venice. The picture is deceptive in that it doesn’t convey the size of the serving. Those croutons, for instance, were the largest I’ve ever seen. I didn’t count the mussels, but the discarded shells filled two big bowls.

Monkfish

Monkfish

The shellfish starter set a high standard for anything that came later. The monkfish with tomatoes, olives, and capers, came close.


The people at the next table were from Los Angeles, and, like me, were delighted by the quality of the food, and impressed with the American-sized servings. We joked about being overwhelmed, and they let me take these pictures of what was left of their meal after five hungry adults had had a go at it.

Must also mention that the service was also excellent, and the server was exemplary.


*I’m specifying “full-service restaurants” to exclude things like cicetti bars and Venice’s multitudinous gelato shops, which are irresistible and addicting. It was a rare day in Venice that I passed up a double scoop of wonderful.

The Easiest Way to See Venice — Gliding up and down the Grand Canal

I’ve always thought that you can’t really begin to know a city until you feel comfortable using its public transportation. Usually, that means getting acquainted with the city’s subway routes and fare collection methods. In Venice, it means riding a vaporetto.

Vaporetti are water buses, and they serve both residents and tourists, with one not-so-slight difference: The basic fare for residents with a local ID card is €1.50, while for everyone else it’s €7.50. Venice hasn’t stayed rich for a thousand years by not looking out for the main chance.

At those prices, it makes sense for a visitor to buy a multi-day tourist travel card, which allows unlimited vaporetto use for a set fee, starting at €20.00 for one day.

Once you have your card, you’re set to explore Venice by water—the easiest, quickest, and most relaxing way to orient yourself to the city.


Along the Grand Canal

This is the best Travel Tip I can give anyone visiting Venice. Here’s what to do:

Go to the nearest vaporetto stop, and board the first boat from the No. 1 vaporetto line that comes along. The No. 1 line runs the length of the Grand Canal, which is Venice’s equivalent of Fifth Avenue in New York. Unless you board at the beginning of the route, you’ll probably wind up either riding inside, or standing on the deck.

Ride to the end of the line, at which point the boat will go out of service, and you’ll have to disembark.

Now find the nearby boarding dock for the return trip. Stay near the boarding point, so that you’ll be among the first people allowed on board. Then head immediately for the limited number of seats in the outside areas at the front or the back of the vaporetto.

You’ll have a comfortable seat with a terrific view as you ride to the end of the line.

Repeat as often as desired.


You can ride on the inside, which is convenient if the weather’s bad, but for the best trip, try to get an outside seat.

This wonderful mature couple spent the entire trip drinking Prosecco from the bottle and making out like teenagers. Venice does that to people.

“So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”


Raw, in every sense of the word, footage from the fish market at Mercati di Rialto*


This being Venice, a large section of Mercati di Rialto is devoted to fish, and to the spectacular array of other things that live under water.

After my lunch at Trattoria Cherubino, where I sometimes had no idea what I was eating, I went back to the market to see if I could track down the dish’s more mysterious components. At least, that’s what I told myself. It was really just an excuse to get another look at these beautiful edibles.

For those playing along at home, here’s how to calculate the prices in US dollars:

Most of the items are sold by the kilo, and a kilo is the equivalent of 2.2 pounds. The posted prices are in euros, and at the current exchange rate, €1.00 is about $1.05. If you have difficulty with the math, just ask some school kids who are learning algebra to solve the problem. They’ll jump at the chance to show off.


*Speaking of showing off, the wobbly, unedited video at the top of this posting is my first attempt at adding live footage to the blog. More, and better examples to come.

Venice Street Scenes

Unplanned Encounters

Some people, places, and things I stumbled across while walking around Venice.


“But He’d Have Walked up that Alley with You, Angel.”  —  Sam Spade, to Brigid O’Shaughnessy

It’s easy to get lost in Venice. You’re supposed to get lost—that’s part of the charm of the city.

You probably have to be born in Venice to really understand the street layout, and all the shortcuts to take and detours to avoid. Some busy “streets” are only three or four feet wide—no cars, remember, so no need to accommodate them by bulldozing your heritage.


A Happy Event


I was wandering around Campo Santa Margherita one afternoon when I ran into a large, loud street party. Groups were singing, people were hugging, and much Prosecco was being put to good use. Many of the young women were wearing the kind of headgear you can see in the picture.

When I asked one of the crowd what was going on, she told me that it was Graduation Day for the Università Ca’ Foscari, the university in Venice. She was wearing a laurel leaf hat to show that she was one of the graduates. Then she called over a couple of her friends, and posed for this picture.


Floating Market

In some of Venice’s side canals, the market comes to you. Buy your groceries right off the boat.


Dueling Weddings

I think there must be a tradition in Venice of having the newly married couple pose for pictures on a tour of historic sites. I was in Campo San Bartolomeo when these two wedding parties collided.

I saw one couple at Piazza San Marco, and then ran into them the next day, still in their wedding clothes, at Campo San Polo. By then, the bride’s gown was muddied and frayed. They didn’t seem to be getting any great joy from the trek, but I’m sure they’ll forget the hassles as soon as they see the pictures.